Three orientations for understanding educational autonomy: school principals’ voices from Australia, Finland, and Jamaica

Hannu L.T. Heikkinen, Jane Wilkinson, Laurette Bristol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This paper reports on the findings from a multi-site case study conducted in Australia, Finland and Jamaica which explored the conditions that enabled and constrained the autonomy of school principals. Systematic data collection was carried out in the form of interviews of school principals and the data was analysed using a qualitative approach. The analysis indicates that: (1) school principals’ practices are prefigured by the peculiarities of historical trajectories and ideological traditions enmeshed in schooling sites; (2) these prefiguring arrangements in turn influence varying realisations of autonomous decision making practices across national sites; and (3) even in the expression of high/low levels of autonomy, there are contradictory and contested practices. Through the analysis, three different orientations to autonomy were found: a neoliberal market orientation, a professional practice orientation and an educational praxis orientation.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Educational Administration and History
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • educational leadership
  • praxis
  • professional autonomy
  • professional development
  • professional learning
  • School autonomy

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